Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Water For Elephants

Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 331
Published: 2006
First Line: "Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me and the fry cook."

Synopsis: Jacob Jankowski's entire life falls apart around him in a matter of days. Left penniless and alone he finds himself, quite accidentally, on a circus train. Thrown into the hectic life of the circus filled with performers and freaks Jacob uses his skills as a veterinary student to make himself useful.

Shortly after arriving Jacob sees the beautiful Marlena, the star of the equestrian act as well as Marlena's emotionally turbulent husband and cruel animal trainer, August. Jacob falls in love with Marlena and needs to find a way to deal with his feelings while making a new life within this new, strange environment.

My Thoughts: After hearing so much praise I got on the "Water for Elephants" train (pun intended) to see what all the fuss was about. Rumour has it there's a movie in the works with none other than Reece Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson for the lead roles so we're talking lots of press for this book.

Well, I kind of enjoyed the ride but not nearly as much as I would have hoped. I thought that the era and setting Gruen picked for her story were fascinating. Depression era and the circus?!? Wonderfully colourful, tempestuous time. Sadly, I found the storyline too predictable. Boy loses everything, boy falls in love with unattainable girl, boy surmounts various obstacles to get girl (including her evil husband).... The ending was smelling of fromage too with it's highly unlikely (in my opinion) ending for the elderly Jacob.

The story did get intense towards the end ... but that was the highlight of the book. Other than the ending the story meanders along just barely keeping this reader's interest. I enjoyed the modern day ramblings of elderly Jacob more than the main storyline ... not a good sign.

I think my biggest issue with the book had to do with the characters. The characters were shallow and expected. The 'bad guys" (cue twirling of handle bar moustaches and deep 'bwah ha ha' laughing) Uncle Al and August are too typical. There's money hungry Uncle Al who will literally do anything to make a buck. Then there's evil August who is not only abusive to the animals, but to his young wife and is hated by all who meet him. He isn't given one redeeming quality.

Jacob, by contrast, is the innocent (in more ways than one) man with a love for animals and a need to save everyone. Then there's the crusty angry little person who actually has the heart of gold. *sigh* No character seemed to surprise me, let's put it that way. It also didn't help that I just didn't buy the whole 'Jacob falls hopelessly in love with Marlena after seeing her once' thing. I guess I'm just not a romantic at heart?!?

My final beef with this book was the overly anthropomorphized animals. I agree that certain animals (chimps, elephants etc) are quite intelligent but I think Gruen went over and above (and perhaps into the realm of fantasy) when she describes how Jacob knows, with just looking into the eyes of the lion or elephant, exactly what that animal is thinking/feeling. Dr Doolittle? I think not.

At times I felt I was reading to get to the next 'good part' which typically isn't a good thing. I don't regret reading this book but I wasn't as taken with it as I thought I would be.

My Rating: 2.5 stars


Anonymous said...

Another good read is "The Last Pope" by Jerry Marcus. A 1997 book available on A mystery about a Cardinal (who happens to be named Ratzinger) who will stop at nothing to be named Pope. The book has been called “Prophetic…Gripping…and Enlightening.”

Laurie said...

Thanks, I'll check it out.

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